The Legacy of Norman Cohn

Paul Lay remembers a historian who was never afraid of engaging with the public.

Paul Lay | Published in 04 Oct 2012

The end of the world: a coloured woodcut from the Luther Bible, c. 1530, illustrates the destruction of BabylonIn July I was fortunate enough to be invited to a colloquium held at Birkbeck, University of London in honour of Norman Cohn, author of The Pursuit of the Millennium (1957) and Europe’s Inner Demons (1975), who died in 2007.

Participants, evidence of the regard in which Cohn’s work is held, included John Gray, Jinty Nelson, John Arnold and Daniel Pick. Cohn’s work on eschatology, witchcraft and genocide is extraordinarily stimulating and, as his former colleague Frank Chalk pointed out, by the end of the day one’s brain seemed to have expanded by an inch or two.

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